Legendary Yaegashi faces Mukai!
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On July 17 at the legendary Korakuen Hall, 2 of the most exciting Japanese boxers come face to face, as Akira Yaegashi takes on Hirofumi Mukai.
Akira Yaegashi (26-6 / 14 KOs) is a modern day Japanese legend. A successful amateur, with a record of 56-14, he won the Inter-High School Championship in 2000 as well as the National Sports Festival of Japan in 2002, which is considered to be their national premier sport event.
Turned pro at the age of 22, Yaegashi was thrown into deep waters quickly, as he fought Eagle Den Junlaphan (17-1*) for the WBC Minimumweight World Title, after only 5 fights. Despite his amateur pedigree and already the OPBF champion, he wasn’t quite ready for that level of competition, at that point of his career. However he did manage to go 12 rounds with the Thai fighter, showing his Bushido spirit of never giving up.
Yaegashi continued to grow as a fighter, pilling up victories over the likes of Kenichi Horikawa (17-6*), Junichiro Kaneda (19-3*), Kosuke Takeichi (10-1*), Norihito Tanaka (13-3*) while also collecting another title, this time the Japanese Minimumweight belt.
In 2011, he finally fulfilled his destiny when he stopped Somporn Seeta (23-3*), to become the WBA World Champion, for the first time in his career. Undoubtedly, that was Yaegashi’s breakout performance as he went to war with one of the best minimuweight boxers of all time and came out on top. That match earned him “Fight of the Year” honors from ESPN.com and BoxingScene.com, as well as the WBA's award for “Most Dramatic Fight of the Year”.
8 months later, Yaegashi was in another much talked about fight, when he took on undefeated WBC Minimumweight World Champion, Kazuto Ioka (9-0*) in a double title unification bout. Again a FOTYC as both men brought their A game that night, knowing what’s at stake. In the end, Ioka got the decision and both championships.
It didn’t take long for him to get back to the “gold game” as he fought Toshiyuki Igarashi (17-1*) on April of 2013, this time for the WBC Flyweight World Championship, moving up 2 weight classes. Much like himself, Igarashi was an accomplished amateur, with a record of 77-18. After 12 competitive rounds, Yaegashi left the victor and more importantly a 2 division World Champion (the Ring and Lineal titles were also on the line)
The “Sonic Fist” defended his championship thrice over Oscar Blanquet (32-5*), former world champion Edgar Sosa (49-7*) and Odilon Zaleta (15-3*) before losing it to Roman Gonzalez (39-0*) in another slugfest.
Yaegashi once more decided to switch weight classes, this time dropping to Light Flyweight. His debut at this new division was an unsuccessful one as he got knocked out by the WBC World Champion Pedro Guevara (23-1*). Those 2 back to back KO losses didn’t discourage the Japanese superstar from continuing his journey of becoming a 3 division King. His dream was realized on December 29 of 2015, after he got the decision win over Javier Mendoza (24-2*) and earned the IBF Light Flyweight World Title.
His reign lasted 2 years, consisting of 2 successful title defenses against Martin Tecuapetla (13-6*) and Wittawas Basapean (31-5*). On May of 2017, Milan Melindo (35-2*) pulled a major upset as he put an end to Yaegashi’s IBF reign in the very first round of their encounter.
Since then, the 3 division champion has fought once this year against journeyman Frans Damur Palue (15-19*), stopping him in just 2 rounds. His next opponent will not be an easy one though.
Hirofumi Mukai (16-5*) began boxing at the Nanjing Municipal High School, while serving as a co-chief in his third year, along with future Olympic gold medalist, Ryota Murata. Afterwards, he went to Nihon University and won 3rd place at the All Japan Championships, plus a national title.
Mukai’s first 5 wins as a pro were against much more experienced foes, such as Jin-Man Jeon (13-2*), Anis Ceunfin (15-10*) and future WBC Flyweight World Champion Sonny Boy Jaro (29-9*). In spite of an unsuccessful attempt at the OPBF Flyweight title, he was granted a world title shot against one of the best boxers to come out of Thailand, Pongsaklek Wonjongkam (83-3*). However the match ended in the opening round after Mukai’s suffered a nasty cut from an accidental head clash.
Throughout his career, Mukai holds notable victories over Sooksan Chaichana, Mark John Yap, world title contenders Tanawat Phonnaku (twice) & Konosuke Tomiyama as well as losses to Mark Anthony Geraldo, world title challenger & Japanese champion Shohei Omori, WBC Super Flyweight World Champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Chinese Superstar Rex Tso.
Specifically, his losses to Rungvisai and Tso were critical to proving his toughness in the ring. The WBC, Ring and Lineal world champion went 9 rounds with Mukai and the fight ended after the Japanese corner threw the towel in. Obviously Mukai wasn’t going to win the fight, but at the same time, he never gave up, despite the vicious beating that he took. On the other hand, his bout with Tso was a back and forth affair, a battle that must be considered one of the best fights of 2017. 3 titles were on the line (Mukai’s WBO Asia Pacific and Tso’s WBO International & WBC Asia). Both warriors had an old school brawl that the kept the fans on the edge of their seats. Tso’s hand speed and agility made the difference, as he dropped Mukai three times during the fight.
All in all, Yaegashi and Mukai may have very different careers, but the one thing they have in common is that whether they win or loss, both will always deliver the excitement. Keep your eyes glued to the screen when this fight is on.
*Denotes record going in to the fight
As we begin yet another year it’s time to reflect on the last 12 months and ponder what may occur in 2016. For Japanese boxing fans there is much to celebrate and anticipate with a healthy selection of world champions, capable contenders and exciting prospects and in this 3 part series we will explore all 3 categories and aim to predict what lies ahead for the many quality fighters from the land of the rising sun.
Japan began 2015 with 8 world champions and ended the year with the same number with 3 new world rulers and 3 losing their belts and in part 1 we will explore possible fights that may take place in 2016 for the 8 current boxers holding world hardware. (Note neither interim nor regular belt holders are considered legitimate world champions by this writer and will be included in the second part of this series.)
In what has become customary Takashi Uchiyama fought twice scoring a superb second round stoppage over the highly talented Jomthong Chuwatana and dispatching the woefully overmatched Oliver Flores in 3 rounds this past New Year’s Eve. An elbow operation kept him out of the ring between the Jomthong and Flores bouts and let’s hope the persistent niggling injuries are behind him and we can see the best of the man known as ‘KO Dynamite’. The 36 year old at last seems to have a defining fight in the offing with a clash against unbeaten Nicholas Walters expected to take place in the US sometime in the spring although no date or venue has been confirmed at time of writing.
It was an interesting year for bantamweight kingpin Shinsuke Yamanaka with a straight forward 7th round stoppage of Diego Ricardo Santillan and a highly controversial split decision win over Anselmo Moreno. The lack of body attack and struggles to pin down the slick Panamanian were badly exposed and at 33 it’s probably unrealistic to expect any improvements but the lethal left hand still make Yamanaka a force to be reckoned with. A March return is expected and a long overdue unification with IBF champion Lee Haskins has been hinted at by his team. A fight in the US has also been numerously mentioned and clashes up at super bantamweight with Nonito Donaire or Julio Ceja would be fascinating encounters. Moreno and Suriyan Sor Rungvisai have been ordered to contest a WBC final eliminator and either would present a tricky rematch for Yamanaka.
For Naoya Inoue 2015 was one of frustration having been side-lined with a damaged hand until December 30th when he returned to easily see off Warlito Parrenas in 2 rounds in the first defence of his WBO super flyweight strap. There seemed to be very little ring rust and let’s just keep our fingers crossed that the man known as ‘Monster’ has no more hand problems. A rematch with Omar Narvaez who had a rematch clause and a mandatory defence against David Carmona look to be next for the 22 year old and his American debut is expected sometime in 2016. The buzz on social media grows ever louder for a showdown between Inoue and Roman Gonzalez but both have quality options in their respective divisions to take care of first.
Whilst Kohei Kono may have only fought once the satisfaction of finally lifting the cloud of Koki Kameda that hovered over him for more than a year would have felt very sweet. The pair waged war in their blood and guts 12 rounder in Chicago with the champion showing a never say die attitude to deservedly prevail on points. At 35 and with a fairly basic style, many in a pact 115 lb division will view Kono as the easiest path to a world title. Interim belt holder Luis Concepcion has expressed a great desire to take on Kono but his handlers at the Watanabe Gym have suggested that a contest with Hong Kong’s Rex Tso is in play for a date in the first half of 2016 in Macao.
You would have been hard pressed to find anyone who would have predicted that Yu Kimura would become a world champion in 2016 but the 32 year old rose to the challenge snatching the WBC light flyweight crown away from Pedro Guevara via split decision in a real shock result. After 6 rounds Kimura looked to be on the way to a stoppage loss but a stand of defiance proved to be just enough to seal his world title. With fellow countrymen Ryoichi Taguchi, Akira Yaegashi, Ryo Miyazaki and Kosei Tanaka all at 108 lb options for the WBC belt holder are endless. A March return has been touted as part of a doubleheader with Yamanaka and former champion Kompayak Porpramook was a rumoured opponent but the heavily avoided Jonathan Taconing lurks ominously in the background and could be a treacherous mandatory challenger sometime this year.
Ryoichi Taguchi ended 2014 with a terrific performance to bully and completely dominate Alberto Rossel to capture a world light flyweight strap. Unfortunately easy KO wins over Kwanthai Sithmorseng and Luis de la Rosa did nothing to progress the 29 year old’s career forward and far stiffer opposition is required in 2016. As stated with Kimura there is no shortage of quality opponents and some mouth-watering domestic bouts are available to be made.
Akira Yaegashi made a late entry for comeback fighter of the year putting on a virtuoso display to dethrone Javier Mendoza of his IBF 108 lb title and leave fans on social media gushing with admiration. The 32 year old is massively respected for his willingness to fight anyone, anywhere, challenge himself and his daring to be great attitude. Yaegashi is expressed a wish to attempt to become a 4 weight world champion and don’t rule anything out with the Ohashi Gym fighter.
Last but not least Kosei Tanaka delivered on the lofty expectations placed upon him and won the vacant WBO strawweight trinket scoring a unanimous points victory over Julian Yedras in just his 5th pro fight eclipsing the record set by Naoya Inoue. With blistering speed and dazzling combinations the 20 year old is a fantastic talent but a willingness to engage unnecessarily still needs to be worked on as he moves up in weight. This impetuous nature was on full display in his New Year’s Eve clash with Vic Saludar which saw Tanaka dropped for the first time in round 5 but come storming back to KO the Filipino in the next round with a terrific body shot. A move up to light flyweight is imminent but a far more disciplined approach inside the ring is required if he is to succeed in an ever growingly stacked division.
In part 2 we will explore the potential fighters who will capture or at least vie for a world championship this year.
Article thanks to Marcus Bellinger who can be found on twitter @marcusknockout
(Image courtesy of boxingnews.jp)
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